Hong Kong has long been the hub for the global shark fin trade, but recent reports show that Vietnam has now surpassed mainland China as a re-export market.
Last year, there was a ninety percent drop in the export of shark fins from Hong Kong to mainland China and an overall thirty-five percent decline of imports to Hong Kong this year, compared to 2012. “We were very surprised when we saw this figure as the mainland has traditionally been Hong Kong’s biggest re-export market,” said World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Hong Kong’s senior programme director, Tracy Tsang Chui-chi.
The decline in shark fin re-export comes amid the central government’s crackdown on extravagance and corruption, as well as pressure by environmental groups to end the trade. “We do not rule out the possibility that the central government’s anti-corruption measures could have played a role in the big drop in re-exports,” said Tsang Chui-chi. Besides the government’s curbs on extravagance and corruption, the recent ban on the transportation of shark fin by several major airlines, may have also had a major impact.
Eight types of shark species are now listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Shark fin is considered a delicacy that is often served as a soup, and widely consumed at celebratory events such as weddings and corporate functions across the mainland and Hong Kong. Environmentalists say that the demand for the delicacy encourages the cruel practice of finning and puts endangered shark populations at risk; as many consumers often do not know what type of shark is on their dinner plate.
Tsang Chui-chi said that more transparency is needed in the trade in Hong Kong, which is still a hub for nearly half of the global shark fin market. This would include improving Hong Kong Harmonized System (HKHS) codes, which are used to track shark fin products, and to identify the specific shark species.
Tsang Chui-chi has asked the government to collect and release full statistics on the shark fin trade, including the species, volumes and countries of origin. “The government should improve the existing HKHS codes, following the coding practice used for blue-fin tuna, to allow for the identification of shark species that need to be tracked. Scientific identification, through DNA testing of randomly-sampled shark fins, could also be deployed for verification purposes,” she said.
WWF Hong Kong has implemented a “Alternative Shark Free” menu programme and has been actively engaging with restaurant owners across the city to “Say No to Shark Fin.”
“Shark-free banquets have become more popular over the past two years. At least 20 percent more wedding couples now choose shark-free banquets. Some of them even do so because their parents came up with the idea,” famous wedding planner, Tim Lau said.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons: courtesy of Chris 73